New legislation that Bexley City Council and the Bexley Tree and Public Gardens Commission is considering would enable the city to preserve trees with a historic significance and promote the city's status as an arboretum, city officials say.

If approved by council, Ordinance 17-20 would "provide a means of identifying, designating, and protecting stately trees that have a historic significance with the designation of 'Heritage Trees' within the city of Bexley," according to the legislation. Council discussed the legislation at two public readings and on April 28 tabled the legislation for review by the tree commission.

At the tree commission's April 29 meeting, Mayor Ben Kessler said the ordinance is a modified version of a previous ordinance it had reviewed last year. The updated version of the legislation states that trees receiving the "Heritage Trees" designation would be protected from removal, except when posing a threat to human health and safety, but it does not spell out fines or penalties.

"In the earlier draft ... there was a $5,000 fine, for example, for removal. That is no longer in this ordinance," Kessler said. "It had a lot more teeth than it does (now). Now it's a lot more aspirational ... honoring and designating trees that were of special significance, allowing residents to have these as points of pride."

"The intent was for this to not be a burden but instead be an honor," commission member Elena Andrews said. "The purpose of this is more it's nominated; you see that it's a beautiful tree. It allows us to nominate trees that are in people's private properties."

Ordinance 17-20 has these provisions:

* A Heritage Tree is defined as one that is outstanding in its species, including size, shape, variety and color.

* Anyone may nominate any tree in Bexley to be designated as a Heritage Tree.

* The property owner on which the tree sits must consent to the nomination of the Heritage Tree. The city's service director must consent to the nomination if the tree is in the public right of way.

* Once the Tree and Public Gardens Commission designates a Heritage Tree, the tree will be recognized with an official listing in the city, marked with a plaque or sign and protected from removal by the city.

Commission member Jim Wilson said the updated version of the ordinance would encourage tree preservation.

"This is only going to work if people see it as an honor and take responsibility for it, rather than in any way to feel like they might suffer some punitive harm if they opt into this," Wilson said.

Council member Richard Sharp took over leadership of council's service committee this year and said he introduced the ordinance after council member Troy Markham drafted the legislation. Sharp said the city's Landmark Tree registry already recognizes trees of special significance.

"It accomplishes a lot of what this (ordinance) does with a larger volume of trees," Sharp said. "The tree commission has done and can maybe update and promote even more the existing process that you've already created.

Susan Quintenz, the tree commission's chairwoman, said she would schedule a meeting in May for members to discuss how to combine the Heritage Tree concept with the Landmark Trees registry. Sharp agreed that council should delay taking action until the commission has made a recommendation.

"I don't have a problem with delaying it because I'd like it to be something that everyone is on board with," he said.

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